European Spine Ride 2021 Recap

Each summer, cyclists from around Europe and the globe, converge to support World Spine Care Europe’s efforts to provide quality, evidence-based spine care to underserved populations. This year, the 5-day ride commenced in Penzance, on the southern coast of England. The group pedaled over 400-miles, traveling through Plymouth, Taunton, Christchurch, Brighton, and finally north to London, finishing at the Marble Arch, where the very first spine ride adventure began 6 years ago.

While travel restrictions due to the pandemic limited the number of participants riding in the UK, a virtual race was also available for people to participate from their homes or gyms. The physical peloton included 7 riders in England and at least another dozen who participated virtually by walking, running, riding, or another activity. A small group of 4 riders held their own Spine Ride in Germany during the same week.

Altogether, the ride was successful with no major mishaps along the way. The participants and their friends, families, and supporters raised funds that will go towards World Spine Care’s efforts to provide conservative spine care in India.

The following recap was written by WSCE President and lead spine rider, Adam Wilkey.

Day 1

The day has dawned beautifully. The view from our hotel room revealed sparkling crystal blue waters across Penzance harbour to St Michael’s Mount, and there is sun! Breakfast and then we’re off…well, sort of. The tandem I had had ‘done up’ and put new go faster tyres on, decided it really wasn’t a day for cycling, just resting in the van. Grrr! It did end up in the van after about an hour+ of getting annoyed with it and trying to tweak it–completely fruitless.

Eventually, we did set off and found some hills, and then some more hills, and then even more hills, and 3 ferries.  It was slow and tough going.  Lunch didn’t happen until 4 pm and a wander through the town to refuel, but oh dear, all that was open was Subway, no Cornish pasty today then.

With about 40 miles left to travel and more hills to encounter we guessed we would not hit our 7 pm target–er how about 11 pm. Luckily our hostel hosts were still prepared to let us in which I am not sure was a good or bad thing, but it was a bed and there was a shower. There was even a Kebab shop open around the corner. You’ll never guess what was for tea.

Over 8,000 feet of climbing in 85 miles taught us that sat and systems tell fibs. We were expecting 6800. The scenery was stunning, the sea crystal clear, the sun shone and by 11 we were goosed.

Day 2

A murky morning, with drizzle in the air and the full vision of where we had stayed. I have this knack for choosing at least one stay where if you step outside the accommodation you could purchase anything that you really don’t want. 

Off we go, without a hitch this morning, through Plymouth out into the Devon country air of rotting seaweed and car fumes. A lovely lady asked us if we were lost when checking the satnav and showed us a brilliant, flat shortcut to get where we were heading. It was only a 2-mile detour that ultimately ended in a rather large hill, yet again a prevailing feature of today’s journey. Being off the main roads means in this part of the world, very narrow, high-hedged, twisting, and gravelly potholes held together with strings of tarmac. It was very slow going. The hills were perhaps a little steeper so no speed either up or down. The scenery was again wonderful and became wild as we hit Dartmoor with sheep and ponies wandering all over.

Another late lunch and then disaster, well for me. My hamstring decided to ‘ping’ after a bit of a niggle, and ouch with every revolution of the pedal. After the rest at lunch, it decided that it was no longer going to play and it became apparent following the first little bump in the road that it was not going to let me continue for the day – rubbish, rubbish, rubbish. Looking at the positive I did miss another very late arrival, 9.30 pm. 

Day 3

What a lovely day. Hamstring niggly but no sharp pains. A slight tailwind pushed us gently through pretty villages where roses and Wisteria climbed thatched roofed cottages. Much less severe landscape so we were able to make good time through the gently rolling countryside of Somerset and Dorset. On the way out of Taunton, we picked up a bike hiker (like a hitch-hiker but with a bike). David rode with us and chatted for about 20 miles before peeling off to return home before his wife became too worried. That is one of the joys of riding, hooking up with other riders and spending some time just chatting as you ride, a great way to meet others.

A highlight for SOME of the boys was the Cerne Abbas Giant (Chelsea said she didn’t even see it, not that you could miss IT??!!). Unfortunately, I feel unable to post a picture and if you know the landmark you will understand why – google it. After lunch and restocking our fluids it was through the Piddles, many of them – unfortunately, my sort of village.

Our target was the holiday town of Bournemouth. Still a popular destination for those looking for a milder climate and the sea, but also unfortunately popular with Hens and Stags as we found when booking into our hotel amidst a raucous, drunken, dressed-up group of young men. Apparently, that night 2 Stag and 1 Hen parties were in full flow. Chelsea said they were noisy for much of the night, really? The only thing that was going to disturb my slumber was the old man’s bladder disease.

Day 4

Another decent start to the day. Through Southbourne, Tuckton, Christchurch, and out into the villages and New Forest. Very gentle rolling countryside made for a relatively steady mornings ride. There are some beautiful areas in England.  

Busy Southampton with its wonderful network of cycle lanes made life much easier than many cities we have passed through, and before long we were back into the lanes of Hampshire heading into the South Downs. Although we encountered plenty of hills on this part of the journey they were not the vicious or long ups and downs of Cornwall and Devon.

Tired legs and sore bottoms by the time we reached our farmhouse stay. Not even the energy to dip into the pool for a swim??!! I’m sure the thought of a hearty meal kept many of us going.  Unfortunately for our tummies, the house was in the middle of nowhere, not a restaurant or takeaway for miles. Uber eats to the rescue. Orders gathered and ready to pay for delivery… next Thursday, in 5 days. Hmmm, perhaps rethink and reorder from the closest takeaway willing to deliver, only 40 minutes away. Burgers and cardboard chips all around then. Goodnight, and we’re out.

Day 5

The final day of our epic journey through the south of England. In the 2012 Olympics, they cycled around these parts. Box Hill is known for its brutality down here. Wimps! After what we have encountered it is nothing, a mere pimple on the landscape.

Epsom and its famous racecourse welcomes us after dinner and then before we know it we hit London, but it’s a gentle sort of hit. Not too busy and some very posh houses and then into the countryside again, or so it seems. Deer laze beneath trees, walkers plod along and cyclists fly past. We are in Richmond Park. An escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, and feeling more like our previous 4 days.

Before long we emerge back into the city fighting the traffic for our space on the road. Over the Thames, into Chelsea, past Stamford Bridge, the Natural History Museum, V&A Museum, and into Hyde Park. It does take a few minutes to find Marble Arch, a demonstration–or is it just a normal Sunday afternoon at Speakers Corner?–and there we are, at the Arch, trip complete (except for the train home of course).

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